Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Six Content Categories for the Holy Grail of E-Textbook Publishing

In my previous blog I talked about the holy grail of e-textbook publishing and why we need to create content not as a single unit that flows from a topic introduction through to a summary but as non-linear, compartmentalized chunks of related content. We're not doing that now, but we need to start soon.

Our ability to create content as non-linear chunks and then to present them to the user in a truly useful electronic environment depends on the ability to identify one type of content from another. In essence, we need to be able to categorize types of content differently than we're doing now.

Here's a list of the six key content categories I envision being used for health care e-textbooks, presented here in no particular order save the last, the most important content category of all.

#1: Process

Process content would consist of steps in a procedure, routine, or sequence, as well as key supportive text. We create a lot of process content in health care textbooks, particularly in such topics as:
  • Medical coding and billing
  • Assessment
  • Clinical procedures (hand washing, transferring a patient, performing lavage, and many others)
  • Administrative procedures

#2: Reference

Reference content would consist of items that support the main textual content, including:
  • Charts
  • Graphs
  • Diagrams
  • External links
  • Definitions

#3: Pedagogical

Any activity or learning exercise to be completed by the student would fall into this category. In addition, heuristic information, such as learning objectives evaluative outcomes, would also fall into the pedagogical category. Pedagogical content would therefore include:

  • Multiple-choice, true-false, short answer, or any other type of test item
  • Learning or behavioral objectives
  • Learning outcomes
  • Relevant standards or competencies for accrediting organizations

#4: Supportive

Sidebar-type content that supports the main text but is secondary to it would be considered supportive text, including:
  • Thematic sidebars, which typically make use of a special icon and cover the same topic, such as legal issues, patient education, safety tips, alerts, and so forth
  • Non-thematic sidebars, which typically consist of stand-alone boxes of content
  • Case studies or scenario-type situations

#5: Administrative

This category would consist of content that provides functionality support, navigational support, and other kinds of content that carry no clinical information. This includes:

  • Navigational links
  • Directions for functionality
  • Help content for site

#6: Core

While all of the other types of content would allow students to wander through the e-text pretty much as they wish, core content would consist of the most important content every student must view and use. Core content would require special functionality that forced, in a way, students down a particular path of inquiry.

This kind of content might prove most difficult to develop because it requires authors to identify the most fundamental concepts for any particular topic area. It's critical, though, that those concepts be not only identified but also developed in such a way as to allow for focused learning.

To identify and develop this content, authors should look at what in a printed book would be, of all places, the summary.


Certainly the six content types outlined here are just the beginning. They need to be discussed, dissected, added to, and amended as needed.

My goal here is to present a foundation for moving forward into the next and essential level of e-textbook development. I hope it's at least a small start in that direction.